Interim Provost John Coatsworth and Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin sent an email a moment ago “to provide basic guidance in recognizing and responding to behavioral warning signs for potential threats to community safety.”

Though the incident is not mentioned explicitly, one cannot help but be reminded of the tragic shooting that occurred earlier today at Virgina Tech.

The email from Coatsworth and Kasdin:

To the Columbia University Community:

To support Columbia’s efforts to sustain the safety of our University community, this letter provides you with information on what you can do if you have concerns about unusual or disquieting behaviors on the part of a student or other members of our community. There is no guaranteed formula for predicting behaviors, particularly the rare potential for behavior that becomes threatening or violent. However, there are a host of indicators we can all be attentive to that may raise red flags and that deserve further scrutiny. Generally, it is the combination of a number of risk factors that is especially worthy of attention.

The purpose of this email is to provide basic guidance in recognizing and responding to behavioral warning signs for potential threats to community safety. The resources described below can also be of assistance if you are concerned that a member of the community may be at risk for self-harm.

First, if you are concerned that a member of the Columbia community may pose an immediate danger, dial 911 or contact Public Safety at 212-854-5555 (Morningside) or 212-305-7979 (CUMC).

But if the situation is less imminent, Counseling and Psychological Services and CUMC Mental Health Service can also assist you in thinking about the risk a student may pose, and in discussing resources that may be of help. Often, troubling behaviors on the part of a student speak less to the threat a student poses to others than to that student’s need for personal support and professional attention. In these circumstances, too, Counseling and Psychological Services and CUMC Mental Health Services can be key resources.

Some behavioral indicators require more urgent action than others. To offer an obvious example, a person who makes threats, gets into fistfights or talks about owning a weapon of any kind is of immediate concern. Other behaviors may be less alarming but still may indicate an elevated risk for violence. It is, of course, not your role to make assessments that even experts find challenging. Rather, we provide a list of some behavioral warnings to offer general guidance in recognizing even the small potential for dangerous acts.

These include:
* General threats or intimidating behavior
* Articulation of detailed plans for acts of violence
* Possession of weapons or preoccupation with weapons or with those who use weapons
* Stalking, harassing others, particularly if such behavior persists after there have been demands to stop
* Frequent physical altercations and/or acts of vandalism
* Escalating substance abuse
* Extremely cruel behavior
* Extreme irritability; regular temper outbursts or fits of rage
* Impulsivity; increasingly frequent risk-taking

These behavioral indicators take on added importance in certain contexts, among them:

* Past history of violent behavior, including violence toward a partner
* Social isolation, feelings of marginalization or a chronic sense of rejection
* Withdrawal from friends or family
* Lack of empathy or respect for others; extreme narcissism, arrogance
* Disregard for rules or for authority
* A history of real or imagined victimization; desire for revenge
* Paranoia
* Bizarre or inappropriate behavior
* Alcohol or other substance abuse disorder
* Suicidal threats
* Deterioration in functioning, personal hygiene; marked personality changes

Columbia is committed to creating a safe and hospitable academic environment for faculty, staff, and students. No one should have to tolerate uncivil or disruptive behavior much less suffer intimidation or threats. Again, if someone is threatening or seems to pose an imminent danger, please call Public Safety at 854-5555 or 911. But please remember, too, that the respective Deans of Students can provide assistance in responding to routine behavioral problems in the classroom, residence halls or elsewhere on campus. Apart from enlisting the support and assistance of Deans, it may be important to bring even lesser infractions to their notice because you may be one of several people who have noted behaviors, which in isolation are only mildly worrisome, but which, taken together, may be suggestive of a more urgent problem. While the likelihood for violent behavior remains statistically very small in our community, universities have learned from experience that our collective attention to those who may be acting inappropriately can help prevent even the potential for threat from becoming a reality.

Our goal is continual improvement in the ways we can be sensitive and responsive to the needs of all individuals in a large and diverse university community whose students, faculty, and staff are our greatest resource. We hope that those of you who work directly with Student Affairs will share this guidance, and we look forward to helping you do so.

Morningside Campus Resources
Public Safety (212) 854-5555 or the New York Police Department (NYPD) at 911

Counseling and Psychological Services
Appointments: (212) 854-2878
After-hours clinician-on-call: (212) 854-9797
Psychiatric Emergency Room – St. Luke’s Hospital (212) 523-3347

Deans for Student Affairs
Columbia College & SEAS Undergraduate (212) 854-2446
SEAS Graduate (212) 854-8930
School of General Studies (212) 854-2881
Architecture, Planning & Preservation (212) 854-9543
School of the Arts (212) 854-1309
Graduate School of Business (212) 854-5538
School of Law (212) 854-7420
School of Continuing Education (212) 854-0419
International & Public Affairs (212) 854-8690
Graduate School of Journalism (212) 854-5979
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (212) 854-2861
School of Social Work (212) 851-2300

CUMC Campus Resources
Center for Student Wellness (212) 304-5564
CUMC Student Health Service (212) 305-3400 (press 7 for the clinician on call if after hours or weekends)
CUMC Student Mental Health Service (212) 305-3400 (press 7 for the clinician on call if after hours or weekends)

Dean for Student Affairs:
College of Physicians & Surgeons (212) 305-3806
College of Dental Medicine (212) 305-3890
Mailman School of Public Health (212) 305-3067
School of Nursing (212) 305-5451
CUMC Offices of GSAS (212) 305-8058